Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Caribbean: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados

We typically prefer to avoid cruises unless we can find a cruise that is in port most every day. Even then, they usually leave so early in the late afternoon that you give up lots of precious time that could otherwise have been spent in that port. However, if you are trying to cover lots of ground, particularly different islands, as in the Caribbean, then cruising is the only way to go (it is much cheaper than taking multiple flights between islands). 

In the Caribbean, by starting out in Puerto Rico, as opposed to Miami, you save several travel days. The cruise we chose only had one travel day, the last day when we traveled from our furthest point back to where we started. 

We left LAX on a Thursday in March at 7:30 p.m. and arrived at JFK at 8:20 a.m. Friday morning. After a 3 hour and 40 minute layer over, where we had lunch and met up with Judy's brother and one of her sisters, and their spouses, who were joining us, we caught a noon flight for San Juan and arrived about 5:00 p.m. We rented a mini-van with Ace Rent A Car which was off-airport and then drove to Levittown, which required a drive around the Bay of San Juan to our Comfort Inn just across the street from Old Mouth Cove (Ensenada de Boca Vieja). It is about a 20 minute drive in non-rush hour traffic and is much cheaper than staying in San Juan. We walked several blocks from the hotel to El Kampestre for dinner and had a nice authentic Puerto Rican dinner, including the laid back and maddeningly long wait to get our food which we experienced at every meal in Puerto Rico. 

Saturday morning we drove to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. We hit a horrible traffic jam into the Visitor's Center which was slower than our wait the night before for dinner. We looked around briefly, took a short walk on a trail next to the Visitor's Center, then drove into the Forest. We stopped for pictures at La Coca Falls, then took the 1.6 mile round trip hike to La Mina Falls, from the top end, including a cold dip in the stream that feeds the falls. We made a brief stop at Yokahu Tower on the way back out and had a nice, but very slow, lunch at Mi Vida Cafe and Burgers in Palmer. We then drove to San Juan and walked into Old Town. Our most significant visit there was to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the second oldest cathedral in the Americas. We spent a second night at the same hotel. 
     Barred Anole  (Bob)
     Yellow-Chinned Anole  (Bob)

Sunday we went to a Sacrament Meeting service at the LDS Levittown Ward, which was all in Spanish, then drove about an hour south and east of San Juan to eat at Los Pinos in Guavate, along the Rutas de Lechon (the Pork Highway). Both Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain have featured Los Pinos in their shows and we had a very fun lunch of pork cooked on a spit. We made another brief stop at Lechonera Bruny's, for another pork sample, then headed back to Old Town San Juan where we spent another hour or two, before we dropped off our rental car and had a taxi takes us to the cruise port where we checked on to the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas, about 4:30 p.m., which became our floating hotel for the rest of the trip. 

Monday morning we arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, about 8:00 a.m. We walked around the pier area in the morning and found numerous giant green iguanas basking on the rocks. At 10:30 a.m. we took a ship shore excursion to Trunk Bay on St. John Island, part of Virgin Islands National Park. It involved a long boat ride, both ways, a drive to Trunk Bay, and about 1 1/2 hours of snorkeling. I tried out my new underwater camera for the first time. After we got back, Judy and I took a taxi into Charlotte Amalie for about 45 minutes, then got back to the boat for our 5:00 p.m. on board time and 5:30 p.m. departure.
     U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Thomas and St. John  (Judy)
     Green Iguana  (Bob)
     Barracuda - Trunk Bay, St. John  (Bob)
     Stoplight Parrotfish  (Bob)
     Yellowtail Snapper  (Bob)
Tuesday morning we arrived in Basseterre, St. Kitts about 8:00 a.m. We walked to Avis, not far from the port, rented a small SUV, then walked to some nearby sights, including Independence Square, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, St. George's Anglican Church and the American Bakery near it. Then we walked back and picked up the vehicle and drove to Romney Manor. We walked the grounds and viewed the batik shop, then walked down to the Wingfield Estate where we visited an archaeological site for one of the oldest rum distilleries in the Caribbean. From there we drove up toward the Brimstone Hill Fortress, had lunch at King Snack, a small store front cafe, if you can call it that, then made the amazing drive up the mountain along a very narrow road to the Brimstone Hill Fortress. We got beautiful views of the mountains behind us and the ocean and coast before us and saw a troop of green vervet monkeys along side of the road on our way back down. We spent time in an unsuccessful search for Charles Fort, then headed back to Basseterre to the ship where our on board time was 4:30 p.m.
     Basseterre, St. Kitts: A Park, Two Churches, and a Bakery  (Judy)
     Church of Immaculate Conception - Basseterre, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     St. George's Anglican Church - Basseterre, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     American Bakery - Basseterre, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     St. Kitts: Romney Manor, Caribelle Batik, and Wingfield Estates  (Judy)
     King Snack, Sandy Point Town, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     St. Kitts: Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park  (Judy)
     Vervet Monkey - Caribbean  (Bob)

Wednesday morning we arrived at St. John's, Antigua about 8:00 a.m. We rented a van through Tropical Rentals and had to wait about 30 minutes for our contact to show up, but at least she came to us and we didn't have to go to her. We drove through downtown St. John's, then across a good portion of the island to Stingray City, near Seaton's Village. The drive out took less time than we were told and we waited for an hour and a half before our 11:00 a.m. start. We loaded up onto a large catamaran and were ferried out to a white sand bottom surrounded by reef. There the guides had buckets of squid which attracted southern stingrays. We had an opportunity to try and hold, feed and get close to stingrays which was really amazing. Afterwards, we drove another good distance to Nelson's Dock Yard, an old dock for the British Navy, turned into restored museums, shops and restaurants. There we had lunch, just off the boats docked in the harbor. We drove back to St. John's in time for our 4:30 p.m. on board time.
     Antigua  (Judy)
     Southern Stingray - Antigua  (Bob)
     Copper & Lumber and Dockyard Bakery - Antigua  (Bob)
     Lesser Antillean Bullfinch  (Bob)
     Zenaida Dove  (Bob)

On Thursday we landed in Castries, St. Lucia about 8:00 a.m. We lined up a tour with Real St. Lucia Tours which provided a vehicle and a guide for the day. We were picked up at 9:00 a.m. and then spent a good part of the rest of the day in the van. St. Lucia was lush, green and mountainous. I think all six of our group would say it was our favorite of all the islands we visited, which is not to say it was our favorite visit. We had issues with our guide who did not seem to know much about the island and did not speak much. We stopped to buy some roadside bananas, stopped to look at a red-tail boa that someone was holding off the side of the road, stopped at the Tet Paul Nature Trail where we got great views of the Pitons, the famous twin pointed mountains, stopped at the caldera of a volcano, and then had an authentic local lunch in Soufriere. By the time we got back to Castries we barely had time to visit the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the site that was at the top of our list that day, before our on board time of 4:30 p.m.
     St. Lucia, Part I: An old French Base, a Snake, the Tet Paul Nature Trail, the Pitons, and some Sulphur Springs  (Judy)
     Carib Grackle  (Bob)
     St. Lucia Boa  (Bob)
     St. Lucia Anole  (Bob)
     St. Lucia, Part II: Lunch, Castries Basilica, a Nobel Poet, and the Pitons  (Judy)
     Fedo's New Venture - Soufriere, St. Lucia  (Bob)
     Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception - Castries, St. Lucia  (Bob)

Friday we arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados around 8:00 a.m. We'd lined up our own excursion with Silver Moon Barbados for a five hour catamaran cruise. Our group of six took up half the guest space of twelve. This was probably the highlight of our Caribbean trip. We were on a beautiful sailboat with motor power for when the winds were not strong enough, we had a captain and two additional crew members and we were being fed and waited on constantly. We went snorkeling and saw green sea turtles, a stingray and quite a few fish. The water was very clear and nice and warm. We had a great lunch and a chance to swim off an exclusive resort. As we got back we took a taxi into Bridgetown where I found and tasted a flying fish sandwich and we walked around town and then back to the ship. Although this was our favorite activity, Bridgetown may have been my least favorite cruise port. Our on board time was 4:30 p.m.
     Barbados: Catamaran Sailing and a Flying Fish Sandwich  (Judy)
     Silver Moon Barbados  (Bob)
     Sergeant Major (fish)  (Bob)
     Green Sea Turtle  (Bob)
     Spanish Hogfish  (Bob)
     Houndfish  (Bob)
     Atlantic Tarpon (fish)  (Bob)
     Live Sharksucker (fish)  (Bob)
     Ballyhoo (fish)  (Bob)
     Flying Fish Sandwich - Bridgetown, Barbados  (Bob)
Saturday was a cruise day. We saw some islands at a distance. Nothing much to blog about.

We arrived back where we had started, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday morning about 6:00 a.m. Our flight home did not leave until 12:40 p.m., a flight to Atlanta, then LAX, arriving about 9:15 p.m. So we arranged with a taxi to take us to the Sheraton near Old Town, which agreed to hold our bags for a fee, and we visited the territorial capitol building, Fort San Cristobal and El Morro before catching a taxi to the airport. An iron man competition pretty much closed off Old Town to traffic, so we had to walk through Old Town.
     Puerto Rico: Territorial Capitol Building in San Juan  (Judy)
     Puerto Rico: San Juan Fortresses and Street Art  (Bob)
     Greater Antillean Grackle  (Bob)
The Caribbean had not been high on our destination list, but it was much more fun than either of us anticipated. I would love to go back. The difficult part is finding another cruise that hits different islands and that minimizes cruise days. 


  1. We packed in a lot of sightseeing on this trip. It was nice to do a lot of it on our own, indepent of the cruise mass of people. I especially liked the days when we had a car.

  2. Great trip, and perfect for a cruise.